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Migrating Shorebirds Making Stops in Vermont: What To Look For And Where

Frank Leung
The black-bellied plover is one of the migrating shorebirds you may be able to spot in Vermont, says John Buck of Vermont Fish and Wildlife. Buck talked to "Vermont Edition" on Wednesday about where people may now be able to spot some shorebirds.

Right now, there's a great reason for serious birders and casual bird buffs to get their field glasses out; shorebirds are making their annual migration south. John Buck, a non-game bird biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife, joined Vermont Edition on Wednesday to talk about which shorebirds can be seen in the state and where.

What are shorebirds?

"Well these are all the birds that are commonly associated with coastal areas, that if you were to go to Cape Cod or any beach area along the ocean, you might see these birds at various times during the summer or during migration," Buck explains.

"But, you know, we don't have that opportunity in Vermont but maybe only once or twice a year – as they make their migratory routes, they'll stop over in landlocked states like ours just to get a quick bite to eat, to fuel up and get ready for the long journey south."

Buck says that many of the shorebirds that may be seen here are coming down from Canada, likely making their way toward coastal South America and the Caribbean.

Specific shorebirds Buck mentions may be spotted:

  • Ruddy turnstones
  • Least sandpipers
  • Black-bellied plovers
  • Solitary sandpipers
  • American golden-plovers
  • Short-billed dowitchers

"There's a very, very long list and they're a very challenging group of birds to identify because they all have some very similar characteristics, but they're all very unique as well," he says.
Buck also shared a story about how he spotted semipalmated sandpipers in a clearing back in late August.

Credit aaprophoto /
The solitary sandpiper is another example of a shorebird that Buck says may be spotted in the area. He also provided suggestions of specific places in Vermont to look for shorebirds.

Where to look:

"Lake Champlain is probably the most prominent shoreline that we have," Buck says. "And, you know, although the drought conditions we have right now have been not good for most every other living thing that we're concerned with here, the exposed shoreline, the mudflats and the gravel bars that you find on the lake and in our rivers right now provide excellent feeding habitat for these shorebirds, so those are some of the locations that birders should go to hope to find these birds."

A few specific recommendations from Buck on where to look for shorebirds:

"It's just such a thrill to see these unique birds that have traveled so far and have so far to go, for them to stop over and give us a glimpse." - John Buck, Vermont Fish and Wildlife non-game bird biologist

The peak time to see shorebirds here:

"I think we're coming into it right now as I monitor sightings from around the state from all the birders who, you know, essentially record their sightings on Vermont eBird. We're seeing an uptick in the number of these species now."

What to look for:

Buck says it's likely the shorebirds would be found individually or in a small flock.

"You know, one or two birds here and there. Sometimes you might see a dozen or two dozen, and they could be mixed with other species too, which is kind of deceiving," Buck says. "So you really have to pay attention to the different profiles, the flight patterns. You might get a good look at some coloration differences, you know, to be able to discern different species."

Tips for watching for shorebirds:

"I would take advantage of this fabulous weather that we're having and grab a pair of binoculars and a camera and something to eat too, because you have to be very patient and mostly you have to be very lucky," Buck says.  "These birds come in – they stay maybe for a day, maybe for a few hours, maybe a couple of days if you're lucky – but they don't stay long because they have such a long journey ahead of them. They just stop in, [have] something to eat and then they're off again ...

"Dress for the weather and make yourself as comfortable as possible because, you know, you may stay for awhile before you really catch a good glimpse. But, you know, it's just such a thrill to see these unique birds that have traveled so far and have so far to go, for them to stop over and give us a glimpse."

Listen to the full interview above.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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